It never fails- I’ve had a long day. I’ve had a million things on my plate, a million tasks to accomplish, and too many things to keep track of. I’m downright exhausted, and all I want to do is fall into my bed and spend the next eight hours in blissful, unconscious rest.
So why can’t I turn my brain off and fall asleep?
If you suffer from anxiety, this experience is far too familiar for your liking. We are exhausted, but our poorly wired brains won’t give it a rest so that we can GET some rest. One thought spirals into the next, and before you know it you’re agonizing about that comment you made to Sharon three days ago and if she’ll hate you forever because of it.
No? Just me?
At any rate, if you have difficulty falling asleep because your thoughts just won’t quit, we want you to know that you’re not alone. We’ve been there (you know, only like, every night or so). And as a result, we’ve come up with some fool-proof strategies to help you shut down your brain and fall asleep fast.
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Get Your Environment Right to Fall Asleep Fast
It’s much easier for me to fall asleep if I get a few physical things checked off my list first. For me, that means having an empty washer and dryer, a tidy living room, and a pot of coffee set to brew for the morning. Your list might be different, but find out what things stress you out when you’re lying in bed at night, and try to fix the things you can.
Sometimes, my brain get stuck on a certain word or concept. For example, I’ll stay up late stressing that I’m going to forget to bring the orange slices to the Fit-A-Thon. When this happens, I make a conscious effort to see that thought, and then visualize letting it go.
I’ll close my eyes, and then I’ll visualize myself writing the word on a giant chalkboard. I’ll picture the word “orange slices” on the chalkboard in bold, blocky letters. Then I’ll picture getting a giant eraser, and erasing those words.
I try to keep my thoughts focused on the blank chalkboard for as long as possible. When my thoughts start to wander, I’ll picture the thought being written on the chalkboard, and erase it again.
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See Your Anxiety Through
Sometimes my brain just won’t shut UP about the stupid Fit-a-Thon orange slices though. I get so fixated on the tragedy of forgetting them that I’m unable to let it go.
When this happens, I change it up from trying to fix the problem to just assuming the worst will happen. Okay, so I forget the orange slices. I’ll turn around, go back to the house, and get them. I’ll be five minutes late to the Fit-a-Thon, apologize, and the odds are? No one will care.
Getting trapped in what-if gives the intrusive thoughts too much power. Instead, power through the part that gives you the icks, and you might just find that the problem is not as big as you thought it was.
Play a Game in Your Head
When the thoughts are swirling, I find it much easier to distract myself from the chaos in my mind. I have found some simple games that do a lot to ease my anxiety and put me to sleep.
One of the games I play is something I like to call the Name Game. I’ll go through the alphabet letter by letter, and try to think of a baby name that starts with that letter. A is for Abby and Adam, B is for Bonnie and Brandon, and so on.
I go through the ABCs as many times as it takes (without repeating a name!) to fall asleep. It’s like my own personal version of counting sheep.
You can also play similar road-trip games (think “I’m going to grandma’s house, and I’m taking an apple, a banana, a cat…”) or make lists of items (as many fruits as you can think of, or ice cream flavors, etc). The point is to get your mind off the thoughts that are bothering you, and into something light and distracting.
Rest in a Good Memory
When I was little, I would lie awake for hours, unable to get myself back to sleep. When that happened, my dad would tell me to picture the best day of my life- for nine year old me, that was our family trip to Disneyland- in excruciating detail.
I’ll start with what I had for breakfast, the outfit I had on, and the way I fixed my hair. I’ll stay on small details, like a car ride or a conversation with someone, for as long as possible. I’ll lose myself in the small details of a pleasant memory, and I’ll typically fall asleep somewhere around the memory of lunchtime.
Repeat a Prayer or Mantra
Whether it’s Christine’s nighttime prayer, or Jaymi’s “I am one with the force, and the force is with me,” it sometimes helps to have a set of words that will soothe you. It’s best to rely on an old favorite (like Psalms 23, the lyrics of Amazing Grace, or a quote that speaks to you) than trying to start from scratch, as familiar rhythms can do a lot to put your mind at ease.
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A Breathing Technique That REALLY Works
If you do this one right, you’ll be asleep in next to no time at all. It’s ridiculously simple, inspired by yoga, and is physiologically designed to knock you right out.
There are three phases of this breathing technique. First, you inhale for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds. And then exhale for eight seconds. Repeat for a total of four breath cycles.
You can read more about the benefits of this breathing technique here, but the gist of it is that it provides your brain with extra oxygen, which in turn resets your nervous system, allowing you to get the rest your body so desperately needs.
We know how frustrating sleepless, worry-filled nights can be. With these techniques in your toolkit, we know you’ll be sleeping sweet in no time. What helps you to get a good night’s rest? Tell us in the comments!
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